Race (2016)

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I’ve heard the name: Jesse Owens before, of course, but I didn’t know anything else about him apart from the fact he competed in Germany and was still treated badly upon his return home to the States. This biopic goes over the course of his journey in a great way to champion the brilliance of an athlete that I’m glad to know more about now.

Jesse Owens (Stephan James) manages to enrol in Ohio State University and there he grabs the eye of former athlete and coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis). Owens is a natural at running but must hone in on his starts, leading him to grow and get the chance to compete at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. It’s not that simple though as the world is looking at Germany to clean it’s racist act and Owens becomes the centre of that issue.

Stephen Hopkins certainly shows a passion for his subject with this film. From 1933 to ’36 we see the life and times of Owens with a good eye. It may not always be directed as swiftly as Owens himself runs but there’s enough detail in here for the athletic/Olympic uninitiated like myself to mull over and find interesting. What Hopkins does well is build up to the Berlin games in an absorbing way, so when we finally reach the towering entrance of the stadium we feel both in awe and disgust at the right wing views of the organisers.

It’s certainly true to say that though the scenes away from the race track slow down the pace of this 134 minute movie, it opened my eyes to the dark choices made for America to keep in the Olympics. The U.S committees and shadowy snippets of propaganda motivations cast a necessary evil over the sporting feel of this biography feature. The end of the movie has the expected screen subtitles giving more information about the history, one fact about German athlete Carl ‘Luz’ Long is shocking but you’d expect nothing else sadly.

‘Race’ bursts into it’s stride in the moments before the Olympics begin. So as we see Jesse Owens deliberating over whether to take part, his qualifying day and the numerous moments we see Joseph Goebbels squirm because his games aren’t going the way he hoped, which brought me great satisfaction every time it shows his face in close up, dealing with the brilliance of Owens overshadowing his Nazi dreamt ceremony and idea that Aryan supremacy rang true. There isn’t exactly exhilaration to be had during the 1936 Olympics sequence but it does bring a sense of pride, even for a non American, the sight of Owens triumphing time and time again is a joy to behold for his sport, his country and his race.

Stephan James does a great deal to ensure this movie keeps interest from the start to the finishing line. He tears up the track and shuttles through the film with a passion and quiet heroism in his performance. Jason Sudeikis as a mostly comic actor does really well as the coach figure which I guess is made up for cinematic treatment, but it’s worthwhile as he and James do well together in that ‘sports movie coach/student’ cliché. Carice van Houten ditches the red hair and dons a German accent as propaganda director Leni Riefenstahl, who made the documentary ‘Olympia’. She plays the German motivated visionary well but shows another side when hearing the twisted ideals of Goebbels, who is captured in a seriously chilling light by Barnaby Metschurat, his mere presence evokes a cold wave of fear.

It’s not stunning or exactly thrilling, but the subject matter holds up to keep your interest peaked in what was definitely a shady part of world history mixed with the spectacle of the biggest sporting event. There’s more going on with Owens then there is about the race issues and politics of the time but this film has told me something and made me want to learn more.

7/10

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Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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A more grown up touch, insanely fun sequences and the grand ideas of fractions in the camp; this American superhero movie is certainly one of Marvel Studio’s best yet. There’s plenty to keep you entertained over the 147 minute run-time, so even though it does feel long occasionally, it still stands solidly as an action packed yet thoughtful comic book feature.

After Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and his team try and stop Crossbones in Wakanda, some collateral damage causes world leaders to unite in trying to have the Avengers as a public ideal, called into action on their terms and not when the heroes decide to; causing mayhem in the midst of their actions. Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) believes signing these Accords is the best decision and as others join his side, Steve finds himself questioning his motivation but carries on joined by a team as they come head to head in an internal battle that could see the hero squad disassembled.

Beautifully, this movie has courage in tackling the more adult idea of friends and foes. Seeing the Avengers fall apart because of their own egos and processes is darker and much more satisfying then an outside villain of robotic or space origins doing the damage. After the brilliantly political thriller vibes of Winter Soldier, the Captain America movies are doing a grand job of cementing their own tone. This outing has a brooding quality ticking away with a neat constant crisis of identity and failing comradery ensuring that theme isn’t overshadowed by action and special effects.

Captained or directed by Joe and Anthony Russo with a keen eye for giving characters, at least 14 main ones, a story arc and engaging factor is no mean feat and they do it so well. I had fears before seeing this movie that the amount of characters would bloat the plot and suffer the whole movie but even with the amount of people flying or running back and forth, it never feels messy which is a relief. The Russo Brothers manage to direct a fun yet intelligent film that keeps us hooked and expands on the motives of already well set up figures like Captain America and Iron Man whilst introducing new characters with their own narratives, goals and conflicts.

Dealing with a huge script like this, knowing audiences have expectations and want to see the moment a frozen soldier from WW2 fight a rich man in a suit as a cinematic moment of awesomeness must have been daunting but writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have successfully created a screenplay that includes all those gleeful battles but importantly they have tackled the big moral dilemma of what these heroes do, focusing a lot of the story on the worldwide destruction they leave behind, the people they hurt and all of this is written and shot in a way that feels grounded in reality which truly helps the movie feel relatable even if you know it could never happen.

Even if you know little or nothing of the comic book origins, this film has such an engrossing narrative idea that you end up mulling over the stance you’d take in this situation. This is a great use of interpolation as you question their actions and ultimately decide whose side you’d be on. There is a gut-punching aspect in this movie as we see the cracks appear and these once cartoonish characters become disillusioned, broken and hateful.

Flicking briefly over to the less than positive side, the movie did feel slightly long, not boring just a tad stretched in places. Also I know if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it but this whole Marvel formula is still evident, with the set up, opening fight, middle dilemma and grand ending battle. So even though it does stand upright with its own tone and juggles a lot of characters splendidly, it doesn’t break the mould which I hope it would. There’s also the niggling idea that I want them to be braver in their execution, literally. They should be confident that we’ll still keep coming back even if they kill off characters but you never going in expecting anyone big to die, so all threat of that feels void of feeling.

Great muscle man Chris Evans is still on form as Captain America, his shield technique and fighting growing more impressive as he goes on. Evans plays Rogers in a more developed way too, showing the confused yet patriotic nature as he believes they must continue fighting even if the world doesn’t want them too. Robert Downey Jr. gets to showcase more emotion as a haunting moment of his past plays a heavy weight on the plot. He’s still got charm and witty lines to deliver in his usual way which I’m not complaining about and he also appears as a creepy smooth young version of himself. Scarlett Johansson kicks ass with more head-smacking hand to hand combat and showcases her agent background as Black Widow more. You never know where she is in terms of what camp she’ll settle with, her performance grows as if pleading with Rogers to help stop the inevitable fallout. Elizabeth Olsen is back, and not held back as she waves her fingers creating masses of magical damage. Olsen acts as the figure people are scared of well, because she’s just like a lost girl afraid herself of what she can do and what might happen before realising her strengths. The two new main cast members are great; Chadwick Boseman is stealthy and cool as Black Panther and entices us to what else we’ll see down the line. Tom Holland is a perfectly set up Spider-Man, fast and agile in his new suit and irritatingly dweeby yet fun as Peter Parker. The film is filled with a superb ensemble from Daniel Bruhl to Paul Rudd. Also can it become canon that every CA film has someone from Community in it!

Heroes fall in this genuinely fun action movie, it may not be as good as Winter Soldier but it’s got plenty of thematic interest, a talented cast and a great sign of things to come. What a smashing way to kick off Phase Three.

7.5/10